A head injury to Antonio Cromartie could open up the door for cornerback Ellis Lankster to make his first NFL start — short of a one-snap package-specific start in 2012 — this Sunday against the Panthers. And it won’t be an easy task.
If Lankster gets the nod from the coaching staff, he will likely have the challenge of going up against Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith. The 34-year-old Smith, a five-time Pro Bowler, is putting up some big numbers for the Panthers as he leads the team with 60 receptions for 681 receiving yards.
Primarily a role player, Lankster sounded a bit brazen in his readiness for this Sunday.
“Steve Smith? It will be great, I’m ready,” Lankster told Metro. “They’re finally giving me a chance if ‘Cro’ can’t go. I’m ready.
“I already know how Steve Smith is and I’ve got attitude about me too. [He is a] good route runner, quick hands, aggressive. … He’s legit.”
In his fourth year in the league, Lankster has been a special teams player and played reserve roles on defense, but never as a consistent contributor. Sunday would be his chance to prove that he deserves a larger role.
On Wednesday, head coach Rex Ryan said either Lankster or Darrin Walls would step in opposite Dee Milliner if the head injury prevented Cromartie from starting. Lankster ran exclusively with the first team in Thursday’s practice.
“Might as well put boxing gloves on those kids,” Ryan said. “We’d pay to watch that one. They’re both the same kind of guys. Steve Smith and him are very similar that way, very competitive guys.”
In practice, Lankster didn’t split reps with anyone else.
“Not as of right now,” Lankster said.
Lankster played 24 snaps, all on special teams, in the win over the Raiders last Sunday.
Jets notes …
»In addition to Cromartie’s absence, wide receiver Stephen Hill did not practice on Wednesday. He continues to recover from his recent knee injury. Of the disappointing Hill, now in his second season in the league, Ryan said players really can’t be judged until their third year in the league.
»Tight end Kellen Winslow also did not practice on Wednesday, part of a preplanned routine to take the stress off his knee injury.
“That’s more a pitch count thing,” Ryan said.
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.